The Ladybird Books' Little Known Secrets

What’s all the hype about?

The Wife:

“Wives like to be right. Sara has been waiting for her husband, Tom, to arrive. He is half an hour late. Sara is delighted. She knew this would happen.”



Ladybird Books, a vestige of precious childhood memories, quaint and quintessentially British family life, as well as discovery and learning, have made a welcome return but not as we once knew them.


Written in a distinctly tongue in cheek tone, expect to stifle your giggles if you happen to pick one up in public, as these books may exaggerate the perplexities of adult life, but they also provide an uncannily accurate view.


For example, in The Wife, leading lady Louise succumbs to irony again and again, such as when she feels guilty for the effect her chocolate habit might have on her weight and skin, yet cheers herself by concluding “Still, there’s always chocolate.”



During their heyday between 1940 and 1980, the originals were being churned out by the publisher at a rate of one every three weeks and covered a myriad of topics from the classic Peter and Jane stories, to history and science and special interests like The Story of Football.



The books were undoubtedly designed to capture and stimulate the imagination of children with their concise but informative tone and idyllic illustrations.


This latest batch of eight, published to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Ladybird Books, is instead aimed at an adult audience and seeks to humorously address and make sense of a number of modern day adult problems - whilst still replicating the style and substance of the originals. They essentially take issues such as a hangover and give them a fun, imaginative twist, while also helping the reader to make sense of the calamities of adult life.



In addition to The Hangover, other titles include The Mid-life Crisis, How it works: The Wife, How it works: The Husband, as well as Mindfulness for Him/Her.



The genius of these books is not just in the punchy and slightly blunt style, reflecting the older versions that the authors have successfully deployed, but the fact that all of the illustrations are actually drawn from the original Ladybird archive, creating a delicious juxtaposition of issues - emanating from the rat race of modern day life - paired with idealised images of an altogether more twee, peaceful and charming time.


The authors of the adult series are Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris, whose credits include TV shows Miranda, That Mitchell and Webb Look and Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe, as well as the film Paddington.


Morris feels that the duo were truly privileged to have been able to work on such a British institution, saying: “It’s like being allowed to mess about with a national treasure, like repainting St Paul’s Cathedral”.

Morris and Hazeley also said that they adored using the original artwork, allowing them to “write as if we were time travellers from the 1960s looking at stuff such as online dating and nightclubs”.


The Hangover


“What a confusing world it can seem with a hangover. Sit as still as you can. Do not attempt to make any decisions. Look out of the window. Can you recognise simple shapes or colours? Is there a moon or sun in the sky? What sort of name might you have? Where might there be bacon?”



So far, the Ladybird books for grown-ups have proved to be a roaring success. This is thanks to the use of the name and instantly recognisable red-and-black logo, propelling four of the books into the top ten highest sellers, which was extremely pleasing for Penguin Books, the publisher that took over the Ladybird brand in 1998.


In fact, the books have been so successful that they led Penguin to make their largest re-order print since Fifty Shades of Grey back in in 2012.


The latest range seems to be so popular due to a sense of nostalgia for more innocent times, as well as a sense that lessons can actually be learned and complex issues simplified like they were in childhood.